Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 235–249 | Cite as

The Role of the School Environment in Relational Aggression and Victimization

  • Caitlin Elsaesser
  • Deborah Gorman-Smith
  • David Henry
Empirical Research


Research conducted over the last decade has documented both the high rates of and serious consequences associated with both victimization and perpetration of relational aggression. This study examines risk for involvement in relational aggression and victimization among middle school youth, evaluating both individual beliefs about violence, as well as aspects of the school environment, including interpersonal school climate and school responsiveness to violence. A sample of 5,625 primarily urban minority middle school youth (49.2 % female) participating in a violence prevention project completed measures of relational aggression and victimization as well as indicators of individual beliefs about aggression, school norms for aggression, student–teacher and student–student interpersonal climate, and school responsiveness to violence. Unlike results previously found for physical aggression, no school-level indicator of climate was related to relational aggression or victimization. However, individual beliefs about aggression and individual perceptions of the school environment were related strongly to both the perpetration of and victimization by relational aggression. These results suggest not only that individual beliefs and perceptions of the school environment are important in understanding perpetration and victimization of relational aggression, but also that risk for involvement in relational aggression is distinct from that of physical aggression. Implications for school interventions are discussed, as well as suggestions for future research.


Relational aggression Relational victimization School climate 



This research was funded by Grant # U49CE001296 from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention. We are grateful for the contributions of the originators of the Multisite Violence Prevention Project (MVPP), the talented and dedicated team that made this project possible. The members of the MVPP project include: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta GA: Thomas R. Simon, PhD; Robin M. Ikeda, MD, MPH (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; Emilie Phillips Smith, PhD (Penn State University); Le’Roy E. Reese, PhD (Morehouse School of Medicine); Duke University, Durham NC: David L. Rabiner, PhD; Shari Miller-Johnson, PhD; Donna-Marie Winn, PhD (University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill); Kenneth A. Dodge, PhD (Center for Child and Family Policy); Steven R. Asher, PhD (Department of Psychology and Neuroscience); University of Georgia, Athens GA: Arthur M. Horne, PhD (Department of Counseling and Human Development Services); Pamela Orpinas, PhD (Department of Health Promotion and Behavior); Roy Martin, PhD (Dept. of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology); William H. Quinn, PhD (Clemson University); University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago IL: Patrick H. Tolan, PhD (University of Virginia); Deborah Gorman-Smith, PhD (University of Chicago); David B. Henry, PhD; Franklin N. Gay, MPH, Michael Schoeny, PhD; Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond VA: Albert D. Farrell, PhD; Aleta L Meyer, PhD (National Institute on Drug Abuse); Terri N. Sullivan, PhD; Kevin W. Allison, PhD (all Department of Psychology).

Author Contributions

CE conceived of the study, performed the statistical analysis, and drafted the manuscript; DGS participated in the design and coordination of the study and helped conceive of the study and draft the manuscript; DH participated in the design and coordination of the study, helped with the statistical analysis, and helped draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caitlin Elsaesser
    • 1
  • Deborah Gorman-Smith
    • 1
  • David Henry
    • 2
  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.University of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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